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New York bid a touching farewell to one of its most compassionate daughters during a two-hour, emotion-packed tribute to the late Evelyn H. Lauder, held Monday morning at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
More than 2,000 were present at the service, including former New York Governor George Pataki, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Saks Inc.’s Stephen I. Sadove, Bloomingdale’s Michael Gould and designers Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. Members of the Lauder family, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Barbara Walters, Elizabeth Hurley and Dr. Larry Norton shared memories of Evelyn Lauder’s life during the service.
“She knew this was the endgame, but she protected us,” said an emotional Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., flanked at the podium by sons William and Gary. “Up until the very end, she was smiling, always up.…I thank God for lending me this beautiful soul, who gave me laughter, brightness, beauty and unconditional love. Evelyn saw life through a different prism than most — flowers to her were symbols of all that was beautiful.…To her, orchids were the ultimate symbol of life. She said, ‘The orchid is the strongest flower; it will survive any tempest. Their beauty comes from within. And when they die, they always come back to life.’
“Evelyn, my love, you are my perennial orchid,” he continued. “You will be with me — with us — always. I love you, forever.”
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Leonard Lauder told of the many women his wife had helped, including a Bobbi Brown counter manager at Neiman Marcus, a breast cancer survivor whom Evelyn reached out to, helping to connect the manager’s doctors with the doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “She is alive and well today because Evelyn Lauder cared enough to pick up the phone and call. Nothing was impossible with Evelyn around. I lost the love of my life.”
Leonard Lauder noted that he has received more than 2,700 letters of condolences since his wife’s death on Nov. 12. “I cherish and embrace each of them,” he said. “Evelyn wasn’t a head of state, but reading those letters, it made me feel that she was.”
Evelyn Lauder was born Evelyn Hausner in Vienna during World War II and emigrated with her parents to New York City to escape the Nazis, noted Bloomberg. “No one showed this city more passion than Evelyn,” he said. “It is fitting that we are at Lincoln Center, one of the city’s most cultural landmarks, to celebrate Evelyn Lauder, one of the city’s great cultural icons. Because if anyone’s life is worthy of celebration on a great stage like this, it is Evelyn’s. She taught for years in an elementary school in Harlem. She gave back to her family and helped build a business with just five products into the powerhouse it is today. She was a fiercely devoted mother and adoring grandmother and a Jewish grandmother to countless honorary Lauders. She had a warmness, a kindness, a generousness that put everyone at ease, whether you were a supermodel or an average Joe. She also knew life had the bitter and the sweet, and the challenge was to find the right balance.
“After discovering she had breast cancer, she did not turn inward,” continued Bloomberg. “Instead, she launched a pioneering effort to raise awareness about a disease that wasn’t even talked about back then. And she didn’t just give a speech or write a check; she created a movement, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation [BCRF] that has raised more than $350 million for research and given us an iconic symbol, the pink ribbon.”
While acknowledging her many professional accomplishments as senior corporate vice president of the Estée Lauder Cos. and founder of the BCRF, Evelyn Lauder’s sons chose to share heartfelt personal memories of their mother.
“So many of us know about the dedicated and passionate crusader bridging awareness and funds for the cure for breast cancer, but I’d like to share a few stories about the passionate, dedicated and fun-loving mother she was,” said William P. Lauder, executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Cos. He recalled going to day camp with his younger brother, Gary, and having his mother row across a lake — rather than drive — to pick the boys up at the end of the day. He also recalled being scheduled to launch Origins in Boston days before his oldest daughter, Rachel, was scheduled to be born, and his mother offering to fill in for him in Boston. “My mother decided she would leave for the airport to catch the last shuttle for Boston, and she was in the car on the way to LaGuardia when the phone rang in the car. It was my grandmother, Estée, who said, ‘Turn around. The baby’s here.’ She got back to the hospital,” he said, voice shaking with emotion, “in time to see me holding her in my scrubs. She wasn’t going to let the launch of a brand keep her from seeing the launch of her grandchild.”
“This jewel had so many facets,” said Gary Lauder of his mother. “She was quite a matchmaker. They say if you make three matches, you have automatic entry into heaven. I think she helped bring enough relationships to fruition to gain entry for the whole family.”
Kors called Evelyn Lauder “funny, elegant and inspiring.”
“Evelyn had energy, curiosity and intelligence,” said Kors, following a reception after the memorial. “There aren’t too many Evelyn Lauders walking around the planet. I remember being in Hawaii about three years ago, and seeing Evelyn and Leonard kissing by the pool. All I could think of was, ‘I hope, when I’m that age, I’m kissing by the pool.’”
“So many of us in the room felt like family,” noted Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. “Evelyn had 2,000 best friends in that room. Her kindness extended to everyone.”